Iraqi forces advance into Mosul’s Old City, Nuri mosque in sight

A Federal Police talks on the radio during fighting against Daesh militants in western Mosul, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 17 March 2017
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Iraqi forces advance into Mosul’s Old City, Nuri mosque in sight

MOSUL: Iraqi forces battling Daesh in Mosul advanced into the Old City and around the al Nuri mosque on Friday trying to seal off a main road to prevent militants sending in suicide bombers.
Troops are meeting fierce resistance as militants retreat into the Old City, where street fighting is expected in the narrow alleyways and around the mosque where Daesh declared its caliphate nearly three years ago.
A helicopter fired rockets into the area and heavy gunfire and mortar blasts echoed as troops fought in districts near the Nuri mosque, where Daesh black jihadist flag hangs from its leaning minaret.
“Federal police and rapid response forces completely control the Al-Basha mosque, Al-Adala street and Bab Al-Saray market inside the Old City,” a federal police spokesman said. “Forces are trying to isolate the Old City area from all sides and then start an offensive from all sides.”
Five months into the campaign to liberate Mosul, Daesh last major stronghold in the country, Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes have retaken the eastern half of the city and about half of the west across the Tigris river.
Losing Mosul would be a huge blow to Daesh. It has served as the group’s de facto capital since its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi announced his self-declared caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria from the Nuri Mosque in July 2014.
Troops were trying to besiege the Old City and cut off a street leading out to prevent Daesh dispatching the armored suicide car and truck bombs that have been targeting army positions inside the city.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber in an armored digger truck penetrated Iraqi forces lines, smashing through vehicles and barricades before detonating a blast that destroyed vehicles including Iraqi US-made Abrahams tanks.
“A bulldozer packed with a large amount of explosives managed to reach our troops near the museum using the Old City side roads, we lost an Abrahams tank, three Humvees and four soldiers,” a spokesman for the rapid reaction forces said.
Residents have been streaming out of western neighborhoods recaptured by the government, many hungry and traumatized by living under Daesh harsh rule. Many say food is running short and security is fragile even in liberated areas.
As many as 600,000 civilians are caught with the militants inside Mosul, which Iraqi forces sealed off from the remaining territory that Daesh controls in Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi forces include army, special forces, Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias.
Around 255,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since October, including more than 100,000 since the latest military campaign in western Mosul began on Feb. 19, United Nations figures show.
The last week has seen the highest level of displacement yet, with 32,000 displaced between March 12 and 15. 


EU efforts to save nuke deal ‘not sufficient,’ says Iran’s Zarif

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wants the European Union to do more to save the nuclear deal after the exit of the US. (AFP)
Updated 49 min 15 sec ago
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EU efforts to save nuke deal ‘not sufficient,’ says Iran’s Zarif

  • Several foreign firms have already halted their Iranian operations while they wait to see how talks within the EU will play out.
  • Zarif spoke after meeting with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, who has been on a two-day visit to Tehran.

TEHRAN: Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Sunday that European efforts to save the nuclear deal after the exit of the US were not sufficient.

“The cascade of decisions by EU companies to end their activities in Iran makes things much more complicated,” Zarif told reporters.

He spoke after meeting with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, who has been on a two-day visit to Tehran — the first by a Western official since Washington announced its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this month.

“With the exit of the United States from the nuclear deal, the expectations of the Iranian public toward the European Union have increased... and the EU’s political support for the nuclear agreement is not sufficient,” Zarif added in comments carried by state broadcaster IRIB.

Several foreign firms have already halted their Iranian operations while they wait to see how talks within the EU will play out.

French oil major Total said last week it would abandon its $4.8-billion investment project in Iran unless it was granted a waiver from Washington.

Another French energy giant, Engie, said Saturday it would cease engineering work in Iran before November, when US sanctions are due to be reimposed.

“The European Union must take concrete supplementary steps to increase its investments in Iran. The commitments of the EU to apply the nuclear deal are not compatible with the announcement of probable withdrawal by major European companies,” Zarif said.

Canete said he recognized that time was short and that clear measures were needed from Europe to protect investments and oil purchases.

Iran has threatened to resume industrial uranium enrichment “without limit” if its interests are not protected.